Words by Dwain Qalovaki
A wise crew member on board the Uto ni Yalo once told me that “the vaka or canoe chooses her voyagers and that each person’s involvement is predestined”.
Under the guidance of Captain Angelo Smith from Lautoka and the experience of Sail Master Colin Philp, the 16 member crew on board the Uto ni Yalo journeyed from Fiji to Vanuatu to to Southport, Australia where I boarded.
For the first 36 hours of my voyage on board Fiji’s 22 metre long double hulled traditional voyaging canoe, I honestly thought this saying could not be further from the truth as I literally hung off the star bound side of the canoe battling sea sickness to gain my stripes as a Uto ni Yalo voyager.
Our journey as part of the Mua Voyage saw the Uto ni Yalo join her sister canoes from Aotearoa, Cook Islands and Samoa to sail across 6,000 nautical miles of open ocean to Australia where the 64 crew members from eight Pacific Island countries made a “Pacific Call for Global Action” at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney from 12 – 19 November, 2014.
What a sight to witness a flotilla of traditional Pacific voyaging canoes sailing into Sydney’s Darling Harbour to mark the opening of the congress which is a once a decade global forum on protected areas.
Alongside our political leaders, which included the Presidents of Palau and Kiribati and Prime Minister of Cook Islands, we made a united call to the world for extraordinary partnerships and commitments to value the global significance of our Pacific island space, in a climate challenged planet.
Our region collectively made a “Pacific Promise” to convert 3.7 million square kilometres of ocean space into marine managed areas. Closer to home and heart, this includes a reaffirmed commitment by the Fijian Government at the 2014 United Nations Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) meeting to protect 30 percent of our territorial seas by 2020.
As part of our 30 percent commitment, the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape which rests between Fiji’s two main islands, is one of these ocean spaces being earmarked for special attention due to its immense ecological value. Encompassing the province of Bua, Lomaiviti, Ra and Tailevu and its adjacent waters, the seascape has well over 120 endemic plant species with more than 1,000 fish and 300 coral species which are intrinsically tied to our “Fijianess” and the livelihood of our future generations.
As an indigenous Fijian who has grown up in big cities (well big for Pacific standards!), sailing on the Uto ni Yalo has been an eye opening experience. On one hand I learnt how our ancestors sailed across vast distances guided solely by nature to reach other islands, which speaks to how developed our ancient voyaging cultures are. On the other hand, it has rekindled a passion and traditional duty to advance the conservation of our natural resources, which we inherit as youths and eventually pass onto the next generation of Fijians.